Seeking tech career advice from experts
Almost two years ago, one of my CertMag articles addressed the potential risks of seeking certification and career advice from strangers. In that article I noted that often people with the least professional experience were the ones most likely to give specific and emphatic career guidance. I’ve always observed that people with actual industry experience and the skills to be giving career advice generally provide information and suggest potential options rather than defining a single correct course of action.
Sten Vesterli’s article What is the Future of Oracle PL/SQL?, published earlier this year in August, was an exception to the norm. Sten is an IT professional with more than three decades of experience in the industry and is the author of books for both Oracle Press and Packt. My primary area of focus with Oracle is PL/SQL development, so the article immediately caught my interest.
After reading it, my primary takeaway was that Sten’s conclusions and advice in the article are all stated as givens rather than possibilities. A specific example of this is: “By 2020, the salary of PL/SQL programmers will have gone up as the scarcity sets in” (emphasis added). This may seem like a small thing, but I feel it is imperative that authors make it clear to readers when presenting an opinion as opposed to a fact.
Sten’s conclusions are not necessarily wrong — the jury is out on that until 2020. I feel that he provided insufficient supporting data, however, to demonstrate they are plausible. In lieu of evidence, the article contained what was effectively “pseudo data” in the form of a line graph.
The chart depicted the amount of PL/SQL work to be done vs. the number of PL/SQL developers available to do that work over the years 2016 to 2024. Based on the chart, there is a surplus of PL/SQL programmers now, but there will be a deficit in a few years.
The traditional purpose of a line graph is to make it easy to analyze a large quantity of numeric data and detect trends. Any reader who analyzes the chart should realize that this cannot be the case here. The vertical axis has no unit of measure so it is not possible for the chart to depict numeric data. Also, the chart displays primarily future years, where numeric data cannot exist.
It is simply Sten’s opinion that the PL/SQL work to be done will remain constant while the number of available PL/SQL developers will shrink expressed as a line chart. My concern is that any reader who does not spend time thinking about the chart may well assume that it contains data that supports Sten’s assertions.
The article contains a second graphic that shows information from Indeed.com. I ran the same query on Indeed to verify my understanding of the data. The following graphic (shown below) is from my search and matches Sten’s results exactly. It contains the average salaries of current job listings in the United States on Indeed.com that contain the given search term.
Sten uses this graphic to support the statement that, “PL/SQL is not a highly paid skill.” When supplied with no qualifier, that assertion is absurd. According to the 2015 census (the most recent available), the 2014 median earnings for an individual in the United States was $40,638. Wages have risen only incrementally in the past couple of years, so the 2016 figures should be within five to ten percent of that value.
The salary provided for PL/SQL developers is well over 200% of the US median wage. His intent was presumably to indicate that among the five selected languages often used for database development PL/SQL is on the lower end of the scale for compensation. However, even that qualified statement is suspect.
The Indeed query is aggregating salaries for all jobs in which the keyword is mentioned. SQL, for example, is often mentioned as a desired skill for database administrators, data architects, and several other highly compensated jobs that require a skill set that includes much more than knowledge of SQL. For that matter, job listings are included in the search if they contain the text “SQL Server” rather than the language name.
Despite appearances, my ultimate goal is not to slam “What is the Future of Oracle PL/SQL?” in particular. In my opinion, it is heavy on conclusions and light on evidence. Given Sten’s industry experience, however, his conclusions may have validity.
What I want readers to take away from this analysis is the importance of maintaining a degree of skepticism to any advice that might impact their career choices. Do not automatically accept that a given set of advice is correct simply because the source is someone with industry experience.
Selecting a career path is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Take the time to perform research that centers around what you want to do, where you want to work, and who you want to work for. Any advice that you read which is based on statistics alone must, by definition, be treating you as a number. Anyone who writes articles with career advice that is intended for publication will target a group of people rather than a single person.
Even when I have written articles as a result of a request for advice from an individual, my response is directed towards anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation. I have never done a “deep dive” on a specific individual to determine the best career advice for them. If I did, the resulting advice would not be something that it would make sense to publish.
You are the one person who can do the best job of researching potential career paths for yourself. If you are in your twenties, in all likelihood your career will span forty years or more. It is certainly advisable to take a few weeks or months looking into what opportunities are available in your local job market. Any time that you invest in yourself is generally going to be worthwhile.